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Conquering the Poverty of the Mind - MaZwane's Story: From Shipping Container to BUSY CORNER – The Entrepreneurial Journey of the Shisanyama Pioneer

Conquering the Poverty of the Mind - MaZwane's Story: From Shipping Container to BUSY CORNER – The Entrepreneurial Journey of the Shisanyama Pioneer

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Conquering the Poverty of the Mind - MaZwane's Story: From Shipping Container to BUSY CORNER – The Entrepreneurial Journey of the Shisanyama Pioneer

259 pagine
3 ore
Oct 21, 2019


‘When you see a township resident driving past in their new car, and they wave, and you wave back, it is extremely gratifying to know that they built their chakalaka business based on the small contract you gave them ten years previously, and now they have expanded and provide other companies with products, because they were able to seize the opportunity you offered to them and developed it.’ – MaZwane

MaZwane has become a legend in South Africa as a pioneering entrepreneur – and an inspiration for those who ask questions about opportunities in the informal township economy.

Her answer to those who doubt whether they can make it, is that you do it through perseverance, sacrifice, seizing opportunities, and offering superior products and service.

In 1989 Phumlaphi (‘Rita’) Zwane left KwaZulu-Natal to find work in Johannesburg after becoming a teenage mother. She could count on the love of her family, a matric certificate and her faith, but had no job prospects, and no knowledge of the business world or life in the big cities.

Her memoir takes the reader from the tough times of finding her feet in Johannesburg, through a variety of jobs and life experiences, to finally fighting her way to success as a respected member of the township economy and starting the successful Imbizo Shisanyama business.

MaZwane tells how she progressed from having virtually no income or permanent home to becoming the first person to formalise and commercialise shisanyama in the townships – and provide a comfortable home and legacy for her children.

Along the way, she befriended many people who contributed accommodation, job opportunities, advice, and companionship. With them cheering her on, she learned how to navigate the different and difficult aspects of the hospitality industry – and slowly reach her desired place of independent security.

Conquering the Poverty of the Mind - From Shipping Container to BUSY CORNER shows the true grit of a Zulu girl who believed in herself – and did it against all odds.

Oct 21, 2019

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Conquering the Poverty of the Mind - MaZwane's Story - Rita Zwane


First published by Tracey McDonald Publishers, 2019

Suite No. 53, Private Bag X903, Bryanston, South Africa, 2021

Copyright © Phumlaphi Rita Zwane, 2019

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission from the publisher.

ISBN 978-0-6399929-1-4

e-ISBN (ePUB) 978-0-6399929-2-1

Text design and typesetting by Patricia Crain, Empressa

Cover design by incynq solutions

Editing by Lia Labuschagne

Digital conversion by Wouter Reinders


I dedicate this memoir to my parents for their sacrifices and their foresight, without which my success would not have been possible.

My late father Mgobansimbi, gudukazi olulala mbijana, nsimbikayigobi, endeavoured to create a better life for his family. Getting to know him through researching this book has been such an honour and an inspiration.

My beloved mother Ntombiza ‘MaNkosi’ Zwane planted the seed of entrepreneurship that continues to grow and flourish. She raised us in her own indomitable manner and made us feel that we had both parents. She is my heroine, and she has been such a pillar of strength that I can’t imagine life without her.

I also acknowledge the following people who have played no small part in my journey: 

•My late sister Sibuzani Doris Zwane. Her sacrifices gave me a lifeline. I still cannot believe that she is gone, I miss her so much.

•My children Senzosakhe Qiniso Mhlongo and Nolwazi Luthuli. They have supported me throughout my journey and I thank them for their understanding. I am the luckiest mother in the world to have them embrace the business and my entrepreneurial being, and for respecting and loving me as their mother. My love for them has no measure and I thank God for the manner in which they have turned out.

•My late nephew Themba Gladwin, who was with me from the beginning. He partnered with me in the business, trusted in me and believed in my vision. I am so very sad that he left too soon. I regret that I never got to see him soar.

•Pastor Lipson Madisha and Mrs Thembi Madisha, who were my spiritual parents and kept me grounded throughout my time in Gauteng. They reassured my mother that I was safe in their hands with their guidance.

•Alice Zwane, my sister who welcomed me to Tembisa, and who supported me to establish myself in the township as a resident and then as a businesswoman.

•Ndingiliza Valerie Mdunge, who was a role model to me since I was 13 years old. Her mentoring and leading by example always challenged me to be the best that I could be.

•My coach Steven Zwane, who had the vision for this book and convinced me that my story was worthy enough to inspire others. I appreciate the fact that he held my hand through every process of this book.

•Dr Dudu Gloria Sibiya, Nompi Ndlandla, and Busi Ngidi, who all supported me to get me on my feet in Johannesburg.

•Johnny and Nelson Teixeira, who saw a young woman with a dream and helped me realise it. I am honoured to call them my friends.

•My family, friends, business partners, patrons, and the communities of Tembisa, Ivory Park, and Ebony Park who have walked this road with me. They have all played a pivotal role in my life, and for that I would like to say, ngiyabonga kakhulu ukungenza umuntu (thank you for making me feel special).   

I acknowledge and thank all of those other important people mentioned in the book who have walked this journey with me. I am immensely grateful for the friendship, mentorship, and value I gained from my relationships with them.

Writing a book about the story of my life has been an instructive and life enhancing process. I am forever indebted to writer Isabella Morris, contributing editor Steven Zwane, publisher Tracey McDonald and editor Lia Labuschagne for their skills, keen insight, and ongoing support in bringing my life’s journey to the page. Through their efforts and encouragement I have a legacy to pass on to my family where one didn’t previously exist.


by Dr Judy Dlamini

‘Entrepreneurship has been the economic lifeblood of African women across the continent. Many, many township women are entrepreneurs, refusing to be limited by either education or resources, and this against the very limiting backdrop of coming from patriarchal societies and a disadvantaged educational and economic system. Instead, women seek out opportunities, and very often successfully navigate the severe restrictions against women in various industries, sectors, and businesses.’ These are the words of Rita Zwane, uMaZwane, a brilliant storyteller who overcame extreme challenges to be a respected entrepreneur.

Reading this book felt like walking alongside MaZwane in her, and her family’s, life journey starting with their time in eNgoje in rural KwaZulu-Natal, and their move to the township of Umlazi in Durban where MaZwane was born and raised. I felt her pain of losing her dad whilst she was five months in her mother’s womb. I admired her mother’s resilience and resourcefulness: a single parent of six children with no education, but who took the bull by its horns to fend for her children. She’s one of the heroes in the book. When MaZwane faced her second challenge in the early years of her life – an unplanned teenage pregnancy – it was her sister uSibuzani who gave her a second chance by taking care of her son Senzo while she went out to seek a career for herself. Sibuzani is my second hero in the book. MaZwane’s resilience, resourcefulness and positive attitude can be traced back to these women of courage and selfless fighting spirit.

Conquering the Poverty of the Mind takes us to a traditional Zulu home where a matriarch consults her offspring for major decisions, and where the majority view is respected. We witness the hustle of each family member teaching their survival skills to MaZwane. This serves her well as she ventures out to Johannesburg on the promise of finding a job. In Johannesburg, through her journey, we encounter Ubuntu from different people who give her a roof over her head, a friend who offers her old clothes to sell, a colleague who helps her with her dream to invest in herself by taking a secretarial course. The African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child is proven by the church ‘mother’ who takes a keen interest in MaZwane and becomes the eyes and ears of her mother in KwaZulu-Natal – someone the pastor’s wife had never met in person.

MaZwane’s journey shows the importance of all the encounters in one’s life, from getting to know your own resilience, forming networks, and learning everything from each job, to taking an idea and turning it into your vision: MaZwane’s Imbizo Shisanyama. Every challenge is there to teach you something; every challenge shapes the person you become. Reading Conquering the Poverty of the Mind took me back to my fireside chat with uBab’ Richard Maponya, the godfather of township retail. He spoke about his struggles decades earlier when unsuccessfully trying to secure a restaurant licence in the township, his efforts to build a world-class shopping centre in Soweto and all the challenges he overcame – challenges arising from the apartheid laws of which the objective was to destroy Africans and any initiative to be self-sufficient. Like MaZwane, he never gave up.

Conquering the Poverty of the Mind is the story of pain and triumph against all odds. It shows what a young woman from rural KwaZulu-Natal, a single parent with only a matric certificate to her name, was able to endure and achieve. It is a must-read for everyone who wants to have a window to the apartheid laws that Africans had to fight to survive; it shares lessons for an entrepreneur across generations.

Your circumstances should not define your destiny. You are the master of your destiny. MaZwane had a dream, she visualised her dream and did everything to make it a reality. She demonstrates strength of character, hard work, resilience and positivity, and a can-do attitude. The support from her family members at different stages cannot be understated. She shares with the reader her valuable leadership skills, the importance of giving back, understanding your environment and your customer, and succession planning.

Conquering the Poverty of the Mind is excellent. We need more stories like this – stories that remind us of how far we’ve come, and what’s possible. Stories that build us. Siyabonga MaZwane.


by Steven Zwane

At a time when entrepreneurship is desperately needed in South Africa, we look around for heroes from whom we can learn. This is especially true for black communities who lack business and entrepreneurship role models. The people of those communities have to pursue studies and then find employment, thus becoming consumers rather than producers. This is a result of many years of slavery and apartheid and also due to the fact that democracy has not really liberated us to the extent that we endeavour to be producers rather than consumers.

This book shines a light on one of the unsung heroes of township economy: a woman who was brave enough to embark on an entrepreneurial journey, who had the resilience to persevere, and the audacity to disrupt the food and beverage industry by creating a sub-sector now famously called shisanyama (a place where people gather sociably to grill meat on an open fire). This is the story of a liberated woman who sought to be productive in one of the harshest operating environments.

Conquering the Poverty of the Mind – From Shipping Container to BUSY CORNER is the story of entrepreneurial excellence and inspiration. We learn how MaZwane started from nothing to build a sound township economy business almost single-handedly in a male-dominated industry. Learning about how she went about it, her resilience, and her drive, is inspirational indeed.

This book is for everyone raised in a similarly impoverished background – something so common for many South Africans who were brought up by a single mother and who had to take it upon themselves to chart a way forward. It is for those young professionals considering branching out into the world of self-employment; for those women and men starting and running small businesses in the townships who want to be inspired by a story representative of their environment; and for anyone who seeks to understand what informs the resilience of successful black entrepreneurs.

In her characteristic easy-going and communicative manner, MaZwane reveals the source of her entrepreneurial inspiration, describes what drove her to start a business, and how she dealt with the various challenges and issues that she encountered as she sought to build a thriving township business that embraces a truly South African culture.

She candidly shares her personal journey – one that is relatable and shows how authentic she is. It is impossible not to root for MaZwane as she describes her struggles and triumphs. Outstanding for me is how she embraced the positive and sought to build and take risks, instead of being overcome by the obstacles that stood in her way.

I hope that by reading this book, you, like me, will be inspired by MaZwane who defied the odds, believed in herself, and who now challenges all of us to appreciate the look, feel, and language of entrepreneurship differently.

MaZwane deserves to be recognised for her role in inspiring the women, men, and youth of Tembisa, Ivory Park, and Ebony Park in the East Rand of Gauteng, as well as others countrywide, for her role in creating a tourism node in the East Rand, and more importantly, for her drive to create jobs and opportunities in the very heart of the township.

I have no doubt that whoever reads this book will learn from someone who seamlessly got the entrepreneurship thing right – someone who had the courage to document her story for all of us to learn from, and to use as an inspirational reference on our own journeys.


Once, my father…

The Zwane family and Zululand are tied together as intimately as the blood of the Zulu nation is to the Ncome River. Our family clan formed part of one of the many Zululand kingdoms that were affected by the Voortrekker Zulu War and the Battle of Blood River in 1838 – kingdoms which were further divided by the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War.

In order to enforce their control over the region, the British authority required each of the powerful Zulu royal houses to swear allegiance to the Crown. However, uZibhebhu, the leader of the Mandlakazi clan, refused to kowtow to the British demands of inter-clan restraint. Instead, he took advantage of a weakened King Cetshwayo and his Royal House of Usuthu and defeated them. Cetshwayo’s son and heir, Dinuzulu, refused to submit to Chief uZibhebhu or the British protectors, and cleverly devised a strategy to outwit both of them. He did so by shrewdly enlisting the help of a group of Transvaal Burghers under the leadership of Lucas Meijer, promising them land if they assisted him in successfully defeating uZibhebhu and the Mandlakazi. It did not take much convincing to persuade the Burghers who had trekked to the Transvaal to escape the oppressive rule of the British. The Zulu-Boer collaborative army was indeed victorious. On the 16th of August 1884, honouring his promise to the Burghers, Dinuzulu handed over the land as promised, and they proclaimed it the Nieuwe Republic, with Vryheid as its capital.

In 1955 my father, 31-year-old Phinela ‘Mgobansimbi’ Zwane, and my mother, 25-year-old Ntombiza Zwane (MaNkosi), lived with their young family in one of the clan’s umuzi (homestead) in the village of eNgoje near Vryheid, northern KwaZulu-Natal. The village lies in a scenic landscape, with wide green valleys that fall between the folds of low, dark, distant mountains. In these valleys you can watch the seasons unfold in all their dramatic glory. In summer, when the low, heavy clouds blow in white with rain, you can track their slow, menacing advance across the violet skies that carry the accompanying thunder and lightning. The unrestrained beauty of eNgoje invigorates me every time I return to it.

Vryheid (an Afrikaans word that means freedom) is a small town that lies at the source of the White and Black Umfolozi, and the Mkhuze and Pongolo rivers, and the landscape is populated with mountains, timber forests, cattle ranches, and maize, soya and groundnut plantations. I often wonder if the bitter irony of the town’s name and the growing stronghold of apartheid in rural towns was what prompted my father to consider leaving the small village of his birth.

At that time, when he and my mother lived there, eNgoje was a typical rural umuzi with the iQukwane (traditional round, thatched Zulu dwellings), dotting the landscape, and domestic animals being herded and taken care of by one of my brothers, Mpisendlini. He was already adept with a leather whip to direct the clan’s small herds. As smoke trails snaked out of the huts and the sky only just began to lighten, the women boiled water and prepared breakfast for their families, and men’s heels kicked up the sand on the dirt roads they walked to their jobs.

In the seven years after the National Party had taken power, my father worked as a herdsman at one of the white-owned cattle ranches and he also managed a bit of subsistence farming on his umuzi. His jobs required him to leave the house well before the sun had risen over the Kwofodo mountain, and he returned in the evenings just after the sun had slipped beyond the western horizon.

In the evenings, after my mother had put the children to bed for the night, and after my father had eaten his evening meal, it was customary for my mother to discuss domestic matters with him. But one evening in 1955, my father asked her to leave the chores for a minute.

‘I know you are happy here, Ntombiza, so I’m not going to ask you to leave…,’ he started.

My mother’s hands stopped in the soapy water; my father’s plate slipped through her fingers.

‘Leave? What are you talking about?’ She turned to face my father. She was heavily pregnant with my sister Sibuzani, and the thought of another change to the family came as a shock.

‘Listen to me. We have young children; you’re expecting

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